photograph by Steve Ahlquist
content warning: police violence
Late in the summer of 2018, activists from the FANG Collective, a nonviolent direct action group, blockaded the entrances to the Bristol County House of Corrections, a detention facility in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts. They used cement blocks and hand-painted banners. They scaled 26-foot tripod structures. This nonviolent direct action, resulting in the arrests of four protestors, marked the launch of the FANG Collective’s Shut Down ICE campaign, which continues to seek an end to all collaboration between local law enforcement agencies and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The action—taken in solidarity with a hunger strike organized by people held inside the facility—also had a very specific goal: to call attention to the horrific conditions inside the Bristol County House of Corrections.
The Bristol County House of Corrections, overseen by Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, has extremely high suicide rates; it has received widespread national attention over its medical neglect, abusive guards, inadequate food, and lack of mental health care. Unsurprisingly, Sheriff Hodgson—who famously offered up ICE detainees at the Bristol County House of Corrections to build President Trump’s southern border wall—is facing lawsuits and investigations over the mistreatment of people imprisoned inside his facility.
Bristol County is one of three counties in New England with a 287g agreement, which deputizes local law enforcement to act as immigration agents within their jurisdictions, allowing police officers to question people about their immigration status and detain people on immigration charges. The Massachusetts Department of Corrections also has an 287g agreement. Additionally, Bristol County has an Intergovernmental Service Agreement (IGSA), a federal contract in which local jails and prisons provide space for the detention of undocumented people. The Wyatt Detention Facility, located in Central Falls, Rhode Island, has also faced increasing protests and public outrage over its IGSA agreement.
One of the activists from the FANG Collective, Sherrie Andre, will go to trial in the New Bedford District Court on January 7th. Co-founder of the FANG Collective, Andre is facing up to 30 days in jail for their involvement in the nonviolent direct action last summer. The College Hill Independent talked with Andre about why they chose to participate in the protest, the role of direct action in the Shut Down ICE campaign, and the importance of organizing around a culture of care.
The Independent: Could you talk about your experience in the nonviolent direct action last summer and, if you’re comfortable, your experience with Sheriff Hodgson and the police?
Sherrie Andre: Last summer, I participated in a nonviolent direct action where a group of people deployed structures to blockade the exits and entrances of the facility. I scaled a 26-foot-pole tripod—which essentially looks like a camera tripod—and climbed to the top of it. The police arrived and were pretty aggressive and violently removed myself and the other person who was in another structure next to me. I personally landed on my tailbone pretty hard on the pavement. The police officers then proceeded to try to remove my gear which essentially was just a bunch of men standing over me with knives as they tried to cut my gear off of my body that was attached to the climb-line to make sure I was safe. Another police officer proceeded to use pain compliance to try to get me to remove myself from a piece of equipment that I had locked myself to. They eventually removed the poles and dragged my body off to the side and removed my equipment and arrested me and the rest of the people and brought us to the Ash Street jail where we tried to express to whatever medical professional was there that we could potentially have concussions and have been harmed. He just said that we were fine and never examined us. No one ever asked if we were okay. I was never asked if I was okay or if I had been hurt in any way.
The Indepedent: Why did you choose to be involved in the action?
Andre: One of the reasons I chose to participate in that action is that I come from a mixed-status family. A lot of my family members are from Southeast Asia or Portugal and it was important to me to target a facility that has a 287g agreement with ICE that the people within my immediate family, but also within the immigrant community of Providence, would potentially be impacted by. They would potentially be sent to the Bristol County House of Corrections. It was important to me to do something about that, to raise awareness about how that specific county has a 287g agreement which essentially deputizes sheriffs so that they can arrest and detain people on behalf of ICE. A lot of people that I’ve been working with locally and in community groups have gone through that process and have been held at the Bristol County House of Corrections. I don’t live in Massachusetts, but they have been holding people who are residents of Rhode Island that the Wyatt Detention Facility can’t hold.
The Independent: How do you understand this action being important to the Shut Down ICE campaign?
Andre: This was not the first action that we participated in to raise awareness about these conditions. We did a lot of community-building and had conversations with people who were impacted by this facility, but it was the first direct action that we had done to launch our Shut Down ICE campaign with the hopes that it would bring more attention to that particular facility and Sheriff Hodgson and how he essentially runs this facility in a way that people are harmed. There are high rates of suicide, high rates of solitary confinement, people who don’t receive their medication. We wanted to raise awareness for people who don’t realize that even though this facility is in Massachusetts, it’s still impacting people who are here in Rhode Island. And I think it’s just an interesting and ironic thing that Sheriff Hodgson believes so strongly in borders and wants people to go build the border wall, but his policy crosses these state boundaries by not allowing people to access other people in their community. It’s just a very strange thing. I don’t believe in the borders themselves, but it’s interesting how it plays out for people who benefit from an oppressive system.
The Independent: What are 287g agreements?
Andre: A 287g agreement is an agreement between local law enforcement and ICE. The sheriff has the power to make that decision through policy. The agreement essentially protects the racist actions of police officers so they can pick and choose who they would like to target, arrest, and run a background check to see if they have potentially any criminal charges— which police officers do anyway—but also to see if they have an immigration status for which they could then be detained by ICE. It’s a way of creating these protections for police officers to continue to act racist—to specifically target people of color and black folks and arrest them under the potential assumption that they would have past criminal charges and then expect them to be held accountable for these charges in a different way after they have served their time. I say this without feeling like people should have to serve time in jail at all, but in general, because this is the system that we have, that is how the 287g agreements act out these protections and this continued racism in the criminal justice system.
The Independent: What are the best ways to end these agreements? And what is the importance of direct action in this campaign?
Andre: These agreements can be ended at any time. It’s very simple. The people within their own communities need to hold their elected officials accountable and let them know that they are not interested in these agreements existing and harming the people both in their immediate community and the communities that are neighboring them. The best way to start that is education: being aware of whether you have a 287g or IGSA agreement, determining who the person was who made that decision, making sure that person is very aware that you do not want this agreement, and working with other elected officials—who have more clout—to get that person not to make these agreements. I think direct action plays a role here because there are people like me who don’t always benefit from this unjust system because of my racial identity and how I navigate the world. In some ways, I’m very aware of the privileges I do have, but I’m not always going to have access to elected officials or be taken seriously for whatever reason, whether it be gender or race, age, just because those biases exist. I’m never going to get into a room or sit down for a conversation where my thoughts and opinions are taken very seriously, but I also believe that as a person who currently has bodily privilege and the ability to take action, I should. I want to utilize the resources that I have, which isn’t a lot. I can’t hire a lawyer to sue, I can’t vote in Massachusetts to vote that sheriff out, and I can’t have a say in public hearings as to whether I agree to these agreements, because I’m just not taken seriously. So the best thing I can do is to use my body in a way that I can raise awareness about these unjust conditions.
The Independent: What has your experience been through the legal process?
Andre: It’s been awful. But it’s also awful for lots of other people who are going through the system who don’t have as much support as I have. It’s very privileged to have an entire team of people who are supporting me through this process. In some ways, direct action makes people put you on this pedestal when you don’t need to be. There is no reason for that to exist when there are lots of people in this system who are not given the attention and resources that they deserve, so it’s good to acknowledge that too. I’m the only one who is going to trial to fight the ten day sentence. My lawyer seems hopeful, but I’ve just been in the courtroom so many times—and not even how I’ve been treated, I’ve just seen how they treat other people in the courtroom in that system so awfully that I don’t really have as much hope as my lawyer. But for me, it’s another way to raise awareness about these agreements and Sheriff Hodgson and how awful he is and how he is the person who is making these decisions—not only for Bristol County but for other counties—and is also just a really racist person.
The Independent: My understanding is that you’re contesting these charges by going to court. Why are you going to trial?
Andre: I’m going to trial because it’s definitely a privilege to be able to engage in process even if it’s not always the most just. It’s another opportunity to raise awareness about these 287g agreements and ICE’s involvement with Bristol Country and how Sheriff Hodgson is the person who makes these agreements with ICE that impact people who don’t have a say as to whether or not they even agree to how that will impact their community.
The Independent: What advice would you give activists around the country who are looking to end 287g agreements in their own counties?
Andre: If people are interested in fighting these agreements, I would say a few things. The first is just know who your people are. Be very aware that the ways in which they will surveil you or intimidate you are much different than the ways that you are prepared to deal with. So just make sure you are very clear with who your people are so that you still feel safe in your community when other people outside of it are trying to make you feel like you don’t have any power or the ability to make change. Also determine how much you are willing to lose and give up doing this work because there are so many people who have been doing this work for so long who don’t have a lot of the things that you would imagine a normal life quote unquote would look like. Come into this work humbly and recognize that people have already sacrificed so much for you even to participate and just create space for that within yourself. And if you’re somebody who has been doing this work for a really long time and are really interested in shifting your targets and the work that you’re doing, don’t give up even though it’s really hard because it’s going to get very hard and it’s very scary but remember that everybody is so appreciative.
The Independent: What kind of community support are you looking for?
Andre: I think it would be great if people are able to come to the trial to support me but also to support the other people in the courtroom who are going through the court process that day. So don’t feel like you have to spend the whole time in the trial with me. Feel free to move about the court and sit in and bear witness to what is happening to other people. We’re also asking people, if you are coming and if you are able, to bring cash to help pay other people’s fines who are going through the court that day. It’s also just an interesting time to see so many people I love organizing around providing support and not organizing around a campaign. For people to observe and respect that is so important and valuable in our movement work. I feel like it gets undervalued. There are literally tons of people organizing around providing support not just for me, but for everybody who is going to be in that courtroom that day. I just think this is like a learning moment for myself included, and for everyone doing this work, about the ways we can shift how much we’ve been utilizing action culture to actually enact a culture of care. And if people are interested in joining some sort of care team, they can email [email protected]. And people can write letters of support. There’s a generated one that people can just sign their name, but writing personal ones are also helpful for me. And if people are interested in supporting undocumented people, people can donate to AMOR or join one of AMOR’s teams if they are local to Rhode Island. Support other groups or local teams that provide this kind of support to undocumented community members. Do anything. Do anything. Please.
The Independent: Anything else you’d like to emphasize or highlight?
Andre: I just want people to be aware that these agreements exist—and they might exist where you live—and that we can still fight them. Even though Sheriff Hodgson and other people who are in positions of power are able to make decisions through policy, it doesn’t mean we have to accept them. And we don’t have to accept how they are implemented in a harmful way.
To show up in solidarity with Sherrie Andre, register to come to the New Bedford District Court at 8:30am on January 7th and January 8th. To show written support for Andre, you can sign this letter or submit a letter of your own to [email protected]. To donate or join the FANG Collective’s Shut Down ICE campaign, visit shutdownicenow.org.
This interview has been edited and abridged for clarity.
SARA VAN HORN B’21 wants to see a packed courtroom.